How to Craft the Perfect Outreach Email

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A few years back, I launched an email outreach tool called Mailshake. It’s the perfect platform to streamline and automate your cold email outreach … but only if you know or are willing to learn how to write the perfect outreach email.

Because I have been a contributor to Forbes, Inc., and Entrepreneur, I get a lot of cold outreach emails arriving in my inbox (20-30 a day). Some are good, some are bad, and some are very, very bad.

Unfortunately, only a handful of them are what I would classify as “great,” and yet “great” is what you should be aiming to achieve with each and every email you send. To quote Rand Fishkin of Moz, good just isn’t good enough:

“To inspire a response, you have to get to “great.”

That’s easier said than done, but I like to think that being on the receiving end of so many outreach messages – and sending a good many myself – has given me a pretty solid idea as to what a “great” outreach email entails.

Of course, every person you contact is different and will best resonate with something slightly different than the next recipient.

I have to be honest with you: there is no “golden rule” to writing and sending outreach emails. You’re not going to finish reading this article with a set formula and template that’ll guarantee a 100% response rate. The perfect outreach email is completely personal to the recipient, and that alone means there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

What you will get are a number of do’s, don’ts, and best practices, that if followed, should help increase the number of people that are actually going to give a shit about what you have to say. Sound good?

Let’s go.

Know Your Audience

The first rule of writing the perfect outreach email is to know your recipient. You don’t need to know them personally, of course. But you should do enough research to gauge the style and tone that best suits them, and find a few personal details to make the message specifically about them.

How busy are they?

At a minimum, you should place each contact into one of two groups:

The busier someone is, the more they will appreciate brevity and bluntness. When you have deadlines looming and unopened emails stacking up, the quicker someone can get to the point, the better.

When you have a little more time on your hands, it becomes less of a burden – and dare I say, enjoyable – to read a friendly email that compliments your work and adds more context to the whats and whys of the message.

Of course, there’s no way to know for sure how busy someone is at any given time. We’re all different. Most of us have days or weeks when we can’t keep up with our workload, and times when things are a little quieter.

However, as a general rule, journalists and decision maker-level professionals will be the busiest people you’re likely to contact. Their time is very valuable and precious.   

Journalists in particular often receive hundreds of emails a day. What’s most important to them is not how much you love their work or how long you’ve been following them: it’s whether or not you have anything useful to offer them. About 75% of respondents for the 2019 State of Media Report believe that less than 25% of the pitches they receive are relevant to them.  

Sure, they might enjoy the flattery, but they’re not going to feature a story that isn’t right for them because of it, and they’re not going to turn down a great story because you failed to butter them up. Get to the point. Make sure it’s right for them.

Bloggers vary. The average “hobby blogger” has the most time for you, more so if they’re relatively unknown and receive very few emails. “Career bloggers” are different: they tend to be busy, yet many of them don’t even manage their own inboxes (and so are even tougher to reach than stacked out journalists).

It’s critical that you consider all of this before you begin writing because it will influence what you write.

Is it the right fit?

Take the time to explore your prospect’s site and get a feel for what they’re most interested in and the topics they typically cover.

From time to time, I’ll receive pitches from marketers asking me to cover a startup.

Now, if you spent a few minutes nosing around my site, you’d realize that I’m not a business news hub, and I don’t usually write articles that discuss one specific company.

What I do do is write posts about awesome tools or other cool things I’ve seen or used. Reach out to me about trying your product or service, and I’m much more likely to respond.

Reach out to me using Mailshake and I’ll be sure to respond (because I always respond to customers and users).

Don’t Cold Email

Everyone responds better to pitches from people they’re already familiar with, even those uber-busy journalists. Consequently, hitting “send” should never be the first contact you have with your prospect. You should have already taken steps to get yourself on their radar, even if only peripherally. Do whatever you can to warm up your cold email list.

This might mean talking to them on social media or in an industry forum, commenting on their blog or meeting them in person at a conference or networking event, for instance. With many events moving to a virtual format, here are a few tips for virtual event lead follow-up.

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In the example below, this person had already reached out to me using Slack. They had managed to get me to “soft agree” to their pitch before giving me the full story. The fact that I was keen on their topic idea was the clincher (cold email or not – if I didn’t like what they were offering, it would still be a “no”) but knowing the email was on its way definitely helped. Check out basho email for some further resources on cold emailing 

The idea isn’t to make a new best friend (though that certainly wouldn’t hurt). You’re not looking to start regular lunch dates or get an invite to their wedding. You simply want to make sure that your contact recognizes your name when they see it in their inbox.

The “Do’s” of the Perfect Outreach Email

Do: Personalize it

Nothing will get your emails deleted faster than sending messages which are obviously automated or that scream “I sent this to 200 people in 10 minutes and all I changed was your name.”

Take this automated spam-fest, for example (thanks to Digital Third Coast for sharing):

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Apart from acknowledging the industry the recipient works in, this email couldn’t be any less personalized. When it comes to personalization, nothing works better than a prospecting video in an email

However, there’s more to personalizing an email than addressing a prospect by name. A personalized email is relevant to what the recipient does and cares about.

I often see marketers take “personalization” to mean talking about their prospect’s latest blog post, or mentioning a shared love of traveling, or tapas, or tic tac toe …

That all helps, but it’s irrelevant if you haven’t bothered to find out and explain how your pitch actually aligns with your prospect’s work and interests, and more importantly, how it will help them.

A personalized email is one that pitches the prospect something that will make their life easier. Do your research, and you might be able to find out what your prospect is planning to write about or what pain point they’ve been facing in their work life.

Aim to offer them something that enhances a story they’re writing or resolves a pain point – that’s the kind of personalization that really works.

It’s also worth noting how much vague, half-assed attempts at personalization suck. Things like “I’m a big fan of your blog” or “I’ve been reading your posts for a while” won’t cut it. Even if you’re genuinely a big fan or loyal reader, it sounds completely and utterly fake. It won’t work. Your email personalization needs to try harder and go further.

Personalize. Segment your email list.

Do: Get to the point quickly

This is always important. Even “less busy” contacts have things they would rather be doing than reading your email. So introduce yourself. Butter them up. Name drop. Just do it quickly so you can move on to the important stuff: why you’ve actually sent the email.

I love the example below, taken from an awesome post by Tim Soulo. The intro sounds friendly and genuine, but more importantly, it’s short. Within a single sentence, Gerald’s moved onto what actually matters.

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It’s the polar opposite of the example below, which is not only far too long, but also fails to mention how this relates to me or why I should care.  

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A great outreach email should be 3-4 sentences max. Keep it short and scannable.

Do: Name drop

Name dropping, or more specifically, naming a mutual contact, is a great way to break the ice and add instant credibility to your emails.

Maybe you both chat with the same person over Instagram. Maybe your prospect used to work with someone who now works with you. Or maybe you went to a conference recently and watched a talk by your prospect’s business partner.

Your mutual contact doesn’t have to be a close friend or relative; their name just has to demonstrate that you and this prospect share common ground.

Let’s put it into practice …

Email 1:

“Hey Sujan,

I loved your recent piece on different types of content marketing; I’ve always struggled particularly with marketing for our B2B clients, so it was really useful to get such a clear breakdown of how B2B and B2C email marketing differ.

I hope you don’t mind me introducing myself and asking a quick question…”

That’s a good opener to an email, although one that’s best suited to the “less busy” type of prospect.

Let’s see if we can make it even better.

Email 2:

“Hey Sujan,

How did you manage to get Ross Simmonds to write a guest post for you? I’m a big admirer of the work you and Ross do (I even saw Ross speak recently – awesome stuff) so it was great to see you guys collaborate.

I hope you don’t mind me introducing myself and asking a quick question …”

This would really catch my eye because it shows they like what I do without going overboard. The email also shows that we share some common ground. I’ve worked with Ross, and okay, this person doesn’t know Ross personally, but they’ve seen him speak and they think he’s a cool guy too – maybe this person will have something interesting to say.

It also feels natural and genuine. Email 1 is good, and if their question was relevant I’d probably respond, but it still feels a little templated.

Email 2 gets away from the status quo – generally a wise move, if done well.

Do: Be clear about what you want

Sometimes outreach emails fall into my inbox that are great in many ways, barring one key failure: they don’t make clear what the sender actually wants from me.

A common mistake is for marketers to send me a link to something they want me to look at and sign off with a vague “I’d love to hear what you think.”

Really?

You genuinely only want my opinion?

Seriously?

Yeah, I didn’t think so …

So just tell me what you do want!

Do you want me to share your link? Republish the content on my site? Invite you to write a guest post for me?

Let’s be real here: chances are I know exactly what you want from me, but you’re not helping matters by beating around the bush.

Remember what I said about the “very busy” people? They’re not looking to play games. They don’t want to ping emails back and forth “building a relationship” until you actually go in for the kill. Be up front and honest, and you’ll gain more respect from me and probably from everyone else you email, too.

Do: Include an interesting sign-off

This is one of the easiest parts of an email to overlook.

Your prospect’s opened your email and read your pitch. Either they’re interested or not, so who cares how you sign off …?

I kind of get that, but this is your last chance to make an impression, so why not make the most of it?

When I’m a huge admirer of the person I’m contacting, I’ll often sign off with “your biggest fan,” but another favorite of mine is “hugs and kisses.”

Don’t judge until you’ve tried it. You’ll be surprised by what works. Try a few different ones and track the results.

The “Dont’s” of the Perfect Outreach Email

Don’t: Say the wrong name

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Making sure to address people by the correct name is obvious, right? Well, it’s surprising how often I receive emails addressed to someone other than Sujan.

Chances are they didn’t actually think I was called Sam or Sally or Sinbad (all made up – no one’s ever called me by those names). Chances are they were just sending so many emails that they got mixed up, or copied and pasted their last email and failed to change the name.

Either way, calling someone by the wrong name doesn’t make for a great start, so always, always proofread your emails. You’ll want to check for spelling and grammatical errors, of course, but you should also be checking that you’re calling people by the right damn name.

Don’t: Include attachments in your emails

They tend to flag spam filters and are inherently untrustworthy when they arrive in emails from strangers. Include links to content and other information instead.

Don’t: Send messy emails

It can be easy to overlook the formatting of your email, but please don’t. First impressions matter in emails as much as they do in person, and presentation is key to making sure that impression is a positive one.

While I did respond to the pitch below, the spacing really lets it down.

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Email design is an art and a science, so spend some time learning about the latest trends and best practices. Check out Really Good Emails for inspiration.

Don’t: Make it all about you

This is a problem I notice a lot. Marketers seem to forget that the only way their pitches will succeed is if they’re offering something their prospect is going to care about. To be blunt: they don’t care about you. At all.

You can be excited and enthusiastic about your new product. You can be convinced you’re the best guest blogger that has ever graced the planet. None of this matters if your prospect can’t understand how your product launch or writing skills benefit them.

Your email pitch isn’t about you. Your fate lies in the hands of the people you’re emailing, so it is all about them.

Be loud and clear about what’s in this email for the recipient. I can’t emphasize that enough.

Don’t: Beg

Or for that matter, say please. Yep, this is the one time in your life when it’s okay – preferable in fact – to not say please. It weakens the strength of your offer or benefit to them.

Nailing the Subject Line

Writing a great outreach email is hard. Writing a great subject line is even harder.

Or at least it often seems that way. It is pretty important, after all: 47% of email recipients decide whether to open an email based on just the subject line.

Get it wrong, and the contents of the email itself are irrelevant.

But it does need to do more than convince someone to open your email. That alone is easy. Anyone can get an email opened if they say the right thing. Unfortunately, getting your email opened isn’t enough.

A great email subject line should:

  • Be intriguing
  • Be genuine (avoid marketing-speak)
  • Accurately reflect the contents of the email
  • Ideally be personalized
  • Create urgency, pique curiosity, and/or mystery
  • Be concise

When I want to land a guest blogging spot, my subject line can often be as simple as “great idea for a post.”

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It’s honest and upfront about the contents of the email. It gives away just enough information to be intriguing. And it sounds like it’s been written by a human (which it has).

I also like this subject line from my namesake Sujan Deswal:  

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It’s spot-on as a precursor to a request for an interview.

On the other hand, this …

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… clearly reflects the content of the email. Unfortunately, it also reeks of automation (“Interview Request”+”Name of Blog”).

While this …

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… is just plain desperate.

In my experience, the best subject lines are simple and honest. Try not to overthink them or be too clever. In fact, clear beats cute and clever every damn time. You want to get your email opened, but you want to get it read and replied to as well, so make sure not to mislead anyone.

Following Up

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Failing to follow up on outreach emails is one of the biggest mistakes a marketer can make. Jason Zook, founder of I Wear Your Shirt and Wondering Aimfully, is a huge advocate for sending follow-up emails. Why? Because about 75% of his successful deals resulted from a follow-up email.

There are many reasons it pays to send a follow-up email. Your prospect might have read your email and genuinely been interested in what you had to offer, but forgot to reply. Maybe your email landed in their spam folder. Perhaps you failed to mention a piece of information which was key to securing your prospect’s interest the first time around.

Whatever the reason, neglecting to follow up could mean you’re reducing your success rate by 75% – or more.

One study found a 30% response rate to the first email. That’s pretty good. But it also found 21% for the second, 13% for the fifth, and 7% for the tenth. The takeaway? Send follow-ups to get more responses. Seems obvious.

The same study found that a whopping 70% of email chains stopped after just one unanswered email, while 80% of prospects say ‘no’ four times before finally saying ‘yes’ (but 92% of senders had already given up after hearing ‘no’ four times).

See the disconnect?

To help boost the number of responses your follow-up emails get, try …

Keeping your email really brief

Keep it even briefer than the first time around. Bear in mind that a lot of the people you’re contacting will have read your first email and neglected to reply simply because they weren’t interested. Reduce the risk of rubbing them the wrong way by keeping your follow up as short and sweet as possible.

Replying to your original email

This keeps the subject line in place, but adds in an “Re:” so that it appears as if your prospect is already engaged in a conversation with you – a technique that has been shown to boost both open and response rates.

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Offering extra information or incentives

Anyone who neglected to respond to your first email because they weren’t interested did so based purely on the information you gave them. Next time, offer them something slightly different and you might be able to turn them around. Add more value. Adjust the offer.  

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Most marketers will agree that sending a follow-up email is a given. When it comes to how many times we should be following up, opinions tend to differ.

For me, the magic number is three emails total. That’s your initial email, plus two follow-ups. When I’ve received a fourth email, I start to think “Just take the hint already.” You don’t want to wind up on people’s “blocked” list.

That said …

Tracking emails can really help in the follow-up stage. Do this, and you’ll know whether or not your emails have been opened.

When your emails aren’t being opened, you can make an educated guess that you used the wrong subject line or that they wound up in the recipient’s spam folder. Don’t be afraid to test out different follow up email subject lines.

Either way, you know it’s safe to keep trying.

If, on the other hand, you can see that your emails have been opened but you’re still not getting a response, it’s pretty safe to assume that after three or four emails you should probably call it a day. They’re just not that into you.

Beyond the Email

Once you’ve sent an email, had a positive response, and got your company/story/product/infographic covered in a publication, do you know what really helps next?

Nurturing that relationship.

In my experience, this is the one thing that truly separates PRs from marketers: the PRs do whatever they can to preserve that relationship once contact has been made. You should do the same.

Remember what I said above about taking the time to get in front of your contacts before you send that email? Well, what if you had a list of close contacts who were always happy to hear from you and find out what you had to offer them next?

That’s hardly a pipe dream. It takes time and commitment, but if you stick with it, you can keep these people on your radar so that next time you want to get a story or piece of content in front of them, they’re more than willing to take a look.

Use automated email and personal attention to nurture, develop, and maintain those relationships for the long-term.

Need all this information rounded up? Here are the key takeaways for you:

Before you email …

Know who you’re emailing and how busy they are

Journalists will almost always appreciate super-short emails that get straight to the point. Bloggers tend to care more about working with people that follow them and what they do. This means it’s generally worth taking the time to craft something a little more personal.

Find out what’s relevant to them

Contacting prospects about something they’re never going to be interested in wastes everyone’s time. Looking to land a guest posting spot? Find out if the contact actually publishes guest posts. Sending out a press release? Make sure to target prospects who regularly cover industry news.

Don’t cold email

Message your prospects on social media. Comment on their blog. Speak to them at a conference. Do anything and everything to get your name in front of them before you hit send.

In your emails …

Do personalize

Use their name and mention common ground if you have it, but most importantly, do your homework to identify how you can actually help your prospect. This might mean providing data that enhances a story they’re writing, or offering to write a guest post that elaborates on a point they’ve recently made. This sort of personalization not only shows you’ve done your research, but is actually useful to the person you’re contacting.

Do get to the point quickly

Everyone has something they’d rather be doing than reading emails, so don’t beat around the bush: keep intros to a sentence or two before moving on to why you’re emailing and what it is you want.

Do name drop

If you have a contact in common, mentioning it can really help to break the ice and show your prospect you’re someone who’s worth getting to know, too.

Do be clear about what you want

No one ever emails just for the sake of “being nice” or “saying hi”: we all want something, so save everyone the trouble and just be upfront about what you want. You should never make your prospect work to figure out what you actually want them to do.

Do include an interesting sign-off

It’s your last chance to make an impression, so try to be different.

Don’t say the wrong name

It makes everyone uncomfortable.

Don’t include attachments

They flag spam filters. Enough said.

Don’t send messy emails

Double check the presentation of your emails before you hit send. Are paragraphs evenly spaced? Have you got a good looking email signature or have you used an email signature generator?This all makes a difference in how you’re perceived.

Don’t make it all about you

Successful outreach emails are ones that demonstrate what’s in it for the person you’re emailing. Stop thinking about what’s in this for you, and put yourself in your recipient’s shoes.

Don’t beg

Or say please. It sounds desperate and won’t convince anyone to do what you ask. Getting a response is about offering something the recipient wants or needs, not how nicely you ask.

Nail the subject line …

This is key. Get it wrong, and your email may not even be opened. A great subject line is intriguing, reflects the content of the email, and sounds like it was actually written by a human.

Follow up …

But make sure to add something new to subsequent emails to increase the odds of capturing the interest of prospects who disregarded your email before.

Foster the relationship …

When someone responds positively, it pays to keep in touch and build a relationship. Done well, this means that next time you want something from them, they’ll be happy to take a look, and much more likely to help.

Do you have any other tips or hints that will help marketers craft the perfect outreach email? Comments are below … you know what to do:





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